Simms takes position in Calif.

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Dr. Gary Plano will fill Dr. Cyndy Simms’ position as the interim superintendent for MISD. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Dr. Gary Plano will fill Dr. Cyndy Simms’ position as the interim superintendent for MISD.
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Gary Plano to be interim superintendent

By Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

Cyndy Simms has accepted the position of superintendent for the Walnut Valley Unified School District in southern California. Simms announced the news during the executive session of the Mercer Island School Board meeting on Aug. 23, only an hour after learning that she had been hired for the position.

“I got a phone call from Walnut Valley during the [Board meeting] break, and they told me I’d been selected,” Simms said. She accepted the offer over the phone.

The superintendent, who was appointed to the Mercer Island district in 2003, will begin her position in Walnut Valley on Oct. 1.

After accepting Simms’ resignation from the district, the School Board selected associate superintendent of instructional services Gary Plano to take over as interim until a permanent superintendent can be found.

“Gary will do an excellent job,” Simms said. “I have all the confidence in him.”

Plano has two years of experience with the school district. In 2005-2006, Plano was director of instructional services. He took on the position of associate superintendent the following year, replacing retiree John Cameron.

Plano holds a doctorate in education from Seton Hall University, a master’s in education from State University of New York at Stony Brook, and a bachelor’s in English from C.W. Post College of Long Island University. Before coming to the Island, Plano was executive director of curriculum and school improvement for the Kent School District.

This will be Plano’s first role as superintendent.

“Within my doctorate came the superintendent credential, so I did have the desire to become a superintendent at one point in my career. This [promotion] came a bit unexpectedly but I’m very excited for the opportunity,” he said.

Neither Plano nor Simms could say exactly when the transition would take place. For now, the two are working together closely, going over Plano’s job responsibilities and upcoming projects.

“I’ve already started taking short-term projects off his plate so he can start stepping into my shoes. Over the next few weeks I’ll be trying to download my brain into his brain,” Simms said with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Plano is juggling two jobs at once.

“I will be balancing the work of both positions until I find a replacement [associate superintendent]. Right now, I’m meeting with my administration team, seeking advice and listening to suggestions on how I should fill the position. This will be one of the first important decisions I make,” he said.

Plano hopes to find a replacement by the end of September.

“[I’m looking for] a suitable interim who can take the projects I’ve been working on with my team forward, so that we don’t skip a beat. So that we continue moving forward in our vision — to build powerful learning communities for students and staff,” he said.

Simms welcomed Plano to the position in an online letter to the Mercer Island community. In the letter, which is posted on the district Web site, Simms also announces her resignation. On a personal note, the superintendent mentions her daughter, Cami, as motivation for taking on the position in California. Her daughter will be starting college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo this fall.

On top of being closer to her only daughter, Simms said she looks forward to working in a new — and much larger — school district.

“Walnut Valley seems to be a very good district with lots of community support. It’s much bigger than Mercer Island and is more diverse in population. There are 56 different languages spoken there, so that will be very interesting,” the Island resident said.

In total, the Walnut Valley district serves a population of 15,000, as compared to Mercer Island’s 4,000. Simms will be responsible for overseeing three high schools, three middle schools and nine elementary schools. Simms will also receive a raise — from an annual salary of $161,000 to $197,000.

Yet the superintendent said she’ll be sad to leave the Island.

“I really, really like Mercer Island. It’s been my home now for four years and my daughter has received an outstanding education here. But to be three and a half hours away from Cami, I’m very excited about that.”

To read Simms’ letter to the community, go to

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